A lappet-faced vulture standing on a grassy lawn.
German vulture cops know where the bodies are buried. (Photo Credit: CC BY/cookipediachef/Fotopedia)

German police are enlisting some avian assistance in the war against crime, reports BBC News. Inspectors have trained vultures to find dead bodies that dog units can’t reach. The aerial vantage point vultures can provide and the scavenger birds’ highly developed eyesight and sense of smell should prove invaluable, according to a German police spokesman.

Say hello to Sherlock, Miss Marple and Columbo

The German police force’s feathered gumshoes – Sherlock, Miss Marple and Columbo – were trained at zoological Weltvogelpark in Walsrode, Germany. The latter two vultures were imported to Germany from an Austrian zoo.

Hanover Policeman Rainer Herrmann told The Telegraph that a colleague came up with the idea of German police vultures after viewing a television nature documentary.

“If it works, time could be saved when looking for dead bodies, because the birds can cover a much vaster area than sniffer dogs or humans,” Herrmann said.

In addition to covering more ground faster, when densely overgrown woodlands or otherwise impassable terrain are involved, vultures can take to the air. German police attach GPS tracking devices to the vultures so their location in remote areas can be pinpointed.

Spotting rotting from on high

From as high as 3,000 feet in the air, a vulture can detect the smell of rotting flesh. In training for police duties, German officials reportedly used a piece from a mortuary shroud to help give the birds a desire for the smell of dead human beings. Of the three birds currently on the job, Sherlock’s indoctrination with putrid, rotting flesh has been most rewarding, although he has displayed an unexpected tendency to hunt most often from the ground rather than the skies.

Ethical concerns over vultures and dead bodies

The German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost reported that not everyone is pleased with the German vulture cops program. Ethical concerns have surfaced over whether it’s proper to intentionally expose a dead human body to potential vulture pecks. Nevertheless, as Herrmann told German media, the police vulture squad is moving full-steam ahead.

“There’s a lot of interest in this. We’ve had inquiries from Germany, Austria and Switzerland,” he said.

Major league stomach acid

If the German vulture cops were to ever go rogue, there might be more than just a passing concern. The highly corrosive stomach acid vultures depend upon to safely digest bacteria-riddled carcasses can also be used as a weapon. According to Wikipedia, vultures’ “reeking, corrosive vomit” can be used as a defensive projectile.

Even if the German police vultures do take some evidence home with them, at least they’ll keep their feet clean. When the scavenger birds urinate, the uric acid kills any bacteria on their legs that may have come from dirty bodies.

Vultures also abscond with sea turtle eggs

Sources

BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13629772

The Telegraph: http://bit.ly/aunWIQ

Vulture Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulture

Welt Vogel Park in Walsrode: http://www.weltvogelpark.de/english/home.html

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